ALBION — The building may be old, but it still serves people of all ages living in and around this Boone County town.
Its significance was recently recognized by the National Park Service when it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The building in question is the Albion Public Library.
The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the country's historic buildings, districts, sites, structures and objects worthy of preservation. It was established as part of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and is overseen by the National Park Service.
The community of Albion was known as Hammond when it was established in 1871. By 1880, the railroad had come to town, and the town’s name had been changed to Albion. About the same time, a circulating library was established, which operated for a few years when an effort began to establish a free public library. The efforts were successful, and the library opened in the front of McGill’s Photographic Studio.
By 1902, the library had more than 1,600 items in its collection, and citizens recognized the need for a larger facility. In 1907, the library board began discussions with the Carnegie Foundation about funding a library building. The request was granted in the sum of $6,000.
Construction began in the spring of 1908, and the facility opened in December of that year.
The Carnegie Foundation played a vital role in the establishment of libraries, said David Calease, National Register coordinator with Nebraska’s Historic Preservation office.
“Because libraries were extremely expensive and not funded through the government, the only way towns and cities received a library was through a donation from a wealthy benefactor. These philanthropists of the late 19th century were attracted to libraries because they believed libraries promoted the ideal of improving one’s self from within,” he said.
In Nebraska, the Carnegie Foundation helped fund 69 libraries that were built from 1902 to 1922. Nationally, Andrew Carnegie, one of the country’s early steel giants, donated $60 million to fund a system of public libraries.
Carnegie’s conviction was based on his belief that “free public libraries are the cradles of triumphant democracy.”
Often, leaders of libraries in smaller communities, such as Albion, borrowed design ideas from neighboring communities.
“Hartington’s library board, for example, chose the same design and architect as Bloomfield. Albion and Pawnee City: same architect, same design,” Calease said. “The size of the buildings are all similar, as the amount of the grant Carnegie would provide was partially based on population, and many of these communities were roughly the same size at the time of applying for a grant.”
While communities did have input into the design of their buildings, the Carnegie Foundation also had requirements, including the size, shape, ceiling height, location of windows and detail of entrances, Calease said.
“These requirements ... were put in place to ensure that the buildings were designed for maximum efficiency,” he added.
‘A brighter future’
Today, the Albion Library’s exterior features nine stone steps leading to the front entry, which is flanked by round columns and pedestal lights that replicate the original lights.
Inside, the front still features the original wood columns and white oak woodwork. The original wood floors are still there but are now covered with carpet.
Although much about the library is the same as it was more than 100 years ago, much has changed. Most noticeable is the two-story addition on the back of the building that was constructed in 1977.
The upper floor houses the books that appeal to adults, while the lower level is the children’s area, said Staci Wright, director of the library.
This summer, the children’s area’s space-themed decorations are meant to coordinate with the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.
The library offers a variety of programs for children and adults, Wright said.
Computers are available that have access to the internet. And there is one computer just for children that has games and programs but no internet access, Wright added.
While the library is busy all year, it’s an especially popular place in the summer, when it averages 40 visitors a day, Wright said. Often those visitors are former residents who stop to reminisce when in town.
“So many people love this library,” she added. “It’s a place people come to see.”
Having Carnegie libraries included on the National Register serves a number of purposes, Calease said.
“Listing these properties is much more about giving them a brighter future than it is about simply recognizing their rich history,” he said. “We want to give communities with Carnegie libraries options with their building that otherwise are not available if the building is not listed in the National Register. If they do an addition, they can undertake that renovation project utilizing our Historic Tax Credit programs. Or, if they decide to vacate the building and sell it, the new occupant can purchase it and rehab it for future use, again, utilizing tax credit programs available to National Register properties.”
The people of Albion have no desire to build a new facility, Wright said. In fact, the board is considering renovating the basement under the original portion of the building to be used as office and conference space.
One of the challenges is making the building handicap accessible, Wright said. The new portion of the building has an elevator that provides access to the main floor and lower and upper levels of the new addition, but it does not go to the basement of the lower level.
Still, hopefully, the building will continue to serve the people of the area for another 100 years.